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Cooking course sends ramen back to the shelf

Lauren Stark, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, prepares to put creme brulee in the oven during a ProStart cooking class. - Margo Horner/The Mirror
Lauren Stark, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, prepares to put creme brulee in the oven during a ProStart cooking class.
— image credit: Margo Horner/The Mirror

By MARGO HORNER, The Mirror

Lauren Stark does not want to starve when she gets to college.

She won’t live on a diet of only Top Ramen noodles, either.

Stark, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, enrolled in the ProStart cooking class offered through the Federal Way School District’s career and technical education programs.

The program is certified through the National Restaurant Association and prepares students for culinary arts schools or entry-level positions in the restaurant industry.

Many of the students have career goals of becoming a chef or pastry chef. Some though, like Stark, just enjoy cooking.

“It’s relaxing for me,” said Stark, who does most of the cooking for her family at home.

Liz Mahoney, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, said she, too, took the ProStart class so that she wouldn’t starve in college.

“Otherwise I would be living on macaroni and cheese and Top Ramen,” Mahoney said. “That does not sound very appetizing every day.”

Since taking the class, Mahoney has learned to cook a variety of healthful entrees. Her current favorite dish to cook is sirloin veggie stir-fry.

“I thought it was hard in the beginning because I didn’t know how to do it, but now I can do it,” she said. “I don’t burn frozen pizzas anymore.”

In the ProStart classes, students learn the basics such as food safety, chopping, mincing, sauteing, braising and stir-frying. They spend class periods cooking meals with recipes downloaded on the Internet from Web sites such as Cooks.com or Foodnetwork.com. The finished products are often served to teachers or eaten by the students.

At Federal Way High School, ProStart students catered a lunch for visitors to the campus last week. They served beef teriyaki and chicken casseroles. Principal Lisa Griebel said having the meals catered by students is a good opportunity to showcase the program.

While many of the students in ProStart are aiming to master the basics of cooking for themselves and their families, other students are working toward career goals in the restaurant industry.

Marc Reynolds, a junior at Thomas Jefferson, said he hopes to become an executive chef in New York City. After high school, he plans to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Reynolds said he started cooking when he was 10 years old. His family taught him how to make Italian soul food, which was popular in his home.

“My mom and my grandma and her sisters are really good cooks, and it’s kind of one of those things where you’ve got to pass down the legacy,” Reynolds said.

In addition to creating delicious entrees, students in ProStart classes are practicing academic skills that they can use in the classroom, Reynolds said.

“It definitely relates to math because you’ve got to be really precise with all recipes,” he said.

Cooking is a career that students choose because of passion for the art. Top spots in prestigious restaurants are highly competitive and require years of experience.

According to a 2004 report published by the U.S. Department of Labor, median hourly earnings for head cooks and chefs was $14.75 in 2004. Most head cooks and chefs earned between $26.75 per hour and $8.28 per hour.

Demand for jobs in the food service industry is expected to grow in coming years.

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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